Is city's vacant homes program working?

Author: Jim Piggott, General assignment reporter, jpiggott@wjxt.com
Published On: Aug 13 2013 03:43:22 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 13 2013 06:48:36 PM EDT
Foreclosure file
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Jacksonville still has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. Top surveys throughout the U.S. list the River City anywhere from No. 3 to No. 7.

In some neighborhoods, house after house are in some stage of foreclosure. It's something the city has been aware of for years and even started programs three years ago to help restore neighborhoods.

So are those program's working?

A house in one Westside neighborhood doesn't look like other foreclosed properties in Jacksonville. It's vacant and in forclosure, but the upkeep is not because of the city or bank. Instead, those in the neighborhood are taking care of the property to keep out crime and their property values in tact.

"We have to, because if we don't, well you don't expect our government to come out and cut the grass do you?" homeowner Sandra Kirby said.

Kirby and her son live in two different houses in the neighborhood. They've been there for more than 20 years and take pride in area.

"When the neighbors moved out, no one would come and take care of the property, and my neighbors all decided it did not look good," Andrew Kirby said. "Hey, we will take care of it until someone moves in, until someone steps up and takes care of it, but everyone is starting to get tired of doing it, taking time out to do it for nobody."

One neighbor fired off a letter to the mayor that says they have been looking for help and answers.

It says, "We have tried to find out what bank owns it, but no one seems to care, and they will not tell us anything. It has been sitting for years, two years, and no telling what the insides look like."

Two years ago, the city was planning to use federal stimulus money to buy some properties, fix them up and sell them. It also began a registry where foreclosed property owners would have to list the property and give contract information for whoever was responsible for maintenance.

The city's Neighborhoods Department, which oversees the program, said it now has more than 21,000 properties on the list, one it has access to. As for the stimulus dollars, it spent $26 million to buy up foreclosed homes to fix up and resell them. That money has been funneled back into other programs.